Private Internet Filtering

The federal governments move toward a national compulsory internet filter is misguided. However I suspect that it does tap into a genuine concern held in certain quarters of the Australian community. The solution is not a single, mandatory, government run filter, but a system of privately operated filters that cater to specific situations. In my house we filter internet content and protect the kiddies using a free service provided by OpenDNS.com. The criteria used by OpenDNS for what should be blocked and what should not be blocked is based on a number of classifications (eg Adult Sex, Videos, Games) which you can choose to block or allow. The community of OpenDNS users provides continuous feedback on how sites should or shouldn’t be classified.

McDonalds have also helped to pave the way forward in announcing that their free wireless Internet service will hence forth be filtered.

McDonalds will be deploying earthwave’s Clean Pipes service to make the internet “Family Friendly” for its 1.45 million customers per day who use the Telstra Next-IP Wi-Fi hotspots in its 720 stores, the company said in a statement today.

The system uses firewalls, network intrusion prevention systems, distributed denial of service protection and other web protection mechanisms.

It will block sites which contain content considered not family friendly such as pornography or bomb-making information. It will use a URL listing service to do that, but McDonald’s also has the ability to place sites it believes to be inappropriate on its black list.

Whilst ISPs rightly lament the governments initative in this area they could move quicker to provide workable solutions of their own. If the government is in a hurry to get results it would be better off providing incentives to the private sector rather than seeking to lock us all in to one single ubiquitous centralised compulstory solution.

Feel free to tell us about your favourite filtering solution in the comments.

34 thoughts on “Private Internet Filtering

  1. Would this have any effect on internet access in New Zealand? I assume that our connection is routed through Australia, would by default we be subject to the same filtering scheme with no say in the process?

  2. Simon – no it wouldn’t, since the filtering is (presumably) to be nameserver based anyway, similar to what OpenDNS provide. They (ALP) have no idea how stupid, expensive and useless this whole idea is.

    Of course, if they go ahead, Australian users could simply use an alternative DNS. Imagine that – using OpenDNS so that you get a clean feed!

    Then of course, there’s SSL, anonymous proxies, etc… the whole thing will waste hundreds of millions of dollars, and takes a mere few seconds to work around.

  3. Fleeced,

    I think the government is proposing something more dramatic than the OpenDNS approach. OpenDNS is like tearing the escorts page out of the phone book. The firewall approach proposed by the government is akin to cutting the phone lines. If my kids were smart enough and motivated enough and then new the details on the missing phonebook page (DNS) they could bipass OpenDNS by editing their hosts file. At the moment I’m merely concerned that they can surf games sites without accidentally encountering porn.

  4. I think the government is proposing something more dramatic than the OpenDNS approach.

    Maybe… I assumed they were simply going to make it more transparent, but that it would still be DNS based.

    If it is DNS based, it’s easy to use another DNS (or mess with your hosts file as you suggested). If it’s IP based – which would be disastrous – use an anon proxy.

    OTOH, if the implementation is a transaparent proxy of some kind, either access sites using SSL, or access non-ssl sites via anon proxy via SSL.

    These solutions are off the top of my head, and of course, only apply to web traffic, which I assume is what they are filtering.

    If/when they implement this foolish thing, I’ll write up a post giving step-by-step instructions on how to circumvent it.

  5. They would have to block based on IP to block SSL queries… they can’t block every anon proxy – they can’t stop you setting up your own either, for that matter, though that’s starting to get more complex. Of course, anon-proxies aren’t that desirable a solution anyway, since they slow things down enormously…

    Yes, it will be a game of cat and mouse, but for every new block they put in place, there is another way around it.

  6. Illegal sites?

    What illegal activity?

    Australians have a right to political freedom of expression.

    If wordpress changes to SSL anon proxies (err, I don’t know what I’m really talking about, help me out), we might see a high court challenge to such a plan.

    The Greens and Liberals have to block this on principle.

  7. My favourite kind of filter is no filter.

    Unfortunately that means I do occasionally have accidental exposure to unwanted content like tubgirl and eelsoup (do not google these….)

    But I still believe that by and large I’m capable of taking most things on the internet in stride. The internet freely provides access to information and to the world. I don’t want information or the world being filtered.

    But I’m a single adult. If I ever had kids I might consider a basic filter- at least until they hit puberty. I’m a great believer in openness, however. Even as a parent I doubt I’d be conventional.

  8. lol, Mark – now you know how I feel with some of the economic type discussions.

    A proxy is just a server that retrieves the webpages on your behalf and passes them back down to you… so instead of accessing site xyz.com directly (which might be a filtered site), you enter the site in the anonymous proxy, which loads the site, and passes it down to you. So, the filter would have to block access to the anonymous proxies, as well.

    It’s possible that the proposed filters will take the form of transparent proxies – that is, a hidden proxy standing between you and the world, intercepting all of your web traffic. Not very private, huh? Even if you’re not into the restricted stuff, everything you accessed would be on record.

    SSL simply encrypts the data (including the URL), which prevents any eavesdropping of data. The only way to block access to such a site is to block access to the IP address.

  9. I note the Age had an article today about the resistance to this policy. I am dismayed by their spin on it, which is misleading and possibly even deliberately innacurate.

    First, they omit the distinction between voluntary opt-out and mandatory Internet censorship, merely speaking of Rudd’s ‘election-winning pitch’ – completely failing to mention that the mandatory censorship came after the election. Reading the article in isolation you’d think Rudd was vooted in on a mandate of compulsory Internet censorship.

    Secondly, they suggest that the main opposition to the policy comes from the ‘internet industry’ (ISPs?) and one Greens senator, as opposed to by most of the rational thinking population.

    Thirdly, they suggest that the bulk of the opposition is due to the affect on Internet speeds, as opposed to the issue of free speech and censorship. Trying to play it down as a mere technical hitch.

    Lastly, they claim that industry trials of ISP level censorship are to be conducted, but fail to mention the ones already held that showed that it didn’t work very well at all – both in terms of speed and incorrect filtering.

    Do the Age actually support this censorship? Maybe they do if it blocks some blogs and alternative news sites?

    Even if editorially they do support it – what happened to objective or even merely truthful journalism?

  10. Thanks for that pom… that’s pretty slack journalism. I should probably disclose that I am a partner in an ISP myself, but I am concerned about this as an Internet user and a freedom loving Australian, more than as a service provider.

    It’s causing quite a stir out their – even Slashdot is on the case:

    The Government Minister in charge of the censorship plan, Conservative Stephen Conroy, has been accused of bullying ISP employees critical of his plan: ‘If people equate freedom of speech with watching child pornography, then the Rudd Labor Government is going to disagree.’

    Hmmm… Conroy is a conservative?

  11. Shem – if my kids were looking for porn I might not care about filtering as much. When the motive is there they will no doubt look for the stuff. However when they are looking for free online games I don’t really want them to cop a face full of genitals. This is much the same with drugs. They may try illegal drugs one day but I don’t want the tuck shop selling the stuff.

  12. Nothing is really stopping the Greens becoming laissez faire

    What are you, fucking stoned?

    No, nothing’s stopping them – except for the fact that they’re a bunch of rabid socialists.

  13. Regarding #17. That thought occured to me also.

    Mark just because libertarians think you should be allowed to smoke the stuff it doesn’t mean you should.

  14. Greens – laissez-faire? you’re kidding right? Fleeced is right – when it comes to economics they’re watermelons through and through.

  15. The Australian Greens have been consistent believers in economic interventionism… but there is no law of the universe that says they must be so. The NZ Greens, German Greens and many other Green groups around the world hold less socialist views of the economy.

    Clearly the green mantra requires some level of intervention, but there is nothing in the trees or whales that says “though must over-regulate the labour market” or “though must ban guns” or “though must have public schools”.

    The WWF co-sponsored my first book on removing farm subsidies. There are free-market environment groups out there. Greenies are not necessarily the enemy of libertarians… it just happens that occasionally they are.

  16. The original comment here was “nothing is really stopping the greens becoming laissez faire”. That comment was correct. The responses were confused about the difference between the possible and the current reality. So I schooled them… 🙂

  17. I can see your point Temujin but I am inclined towards Fleeced at 17. The only thing stopping them becoming laissez faire is that it is easier to suck up to the representatives of the state to get what you want rammed down the throats of the population, than to persuade logical people that your idea is valid.

  18. John

    take a look at the Green party manifesto. the striking thing is that it isn’t a green grouping. they are basically hardcore socialists.

    Funnily enough the green policy section is actually a small part of what they subscribe to.

    The fact that they are against Rudd’s Great wall is neither here or there. In other words we shouldn’t be doing a song and dance simply because one of the bingo numbers came up. They are too far gone to even worry about as a party.

  19. Temujin is somewhat right if we are talking about greens but not as correct if we are talking about The Australian Greens. The former is a movement the latter is a political party with significant political capital invested in the ideologies of socialism. I think the movement has more room to move than the political party, and it was the political party that my link and exclaimation made reference to. I was quite explicit in naming the party not the movement.

    In observing the New Zealand election the interesting things I note is that ACT, the nearest equivalent to the LDP in Australia, sells their green credentials pretty hard (except on the issue of CO2). And at the same time the New Zealand Greens are promoting tax cuts (as is pretty much every New Zealand party in one form or another).

  20. It is simply a fact that it is possible for the Greens to move more towards economic liberty. I doubt they will. But it’s simply a fact that they could.

  21. Temujin –

    What you’re saying is that an environmentalist party could also be somewhat libertarian. I agree, it’s possible, though most environmentalists go for more regulation as a way to achieve their goals.

    However, In spite of their name, I’m not convinced that the Greens Party are primarily an environmentalist party. They spend more time campaigning for the rights of asylum seekers and people accused of terrorism than they do on the environment.

    Moving towards ecomonic liberty would run counter to one of their four pillars – the principle of ‘social justice’ (by which they mean socialism by a better-sounding name)

  22. Getting back on topic, check the difference in the Age and the Herald Sun’s handling of the same issue:

    Age:
    Internet screening move hits hurdle
    A headline-grabbing election promise to crack down on internet nasties looks to be in trouble as Senate opposition grows

    Herald Sun:
    Australia to implement mandatory internet censorship
    AUSTRALIA will join China in implementing mandatory censoring of the internet under plans put forward by the Federal Government.

    Differet spin or what? The Hun might be a bit sensationalist, but it’s more on the mark.

  23. Amir – ironically my home internet filter blocked my access to Tor. So much for that theory.

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